NEW YORK – Take a closer look at Stephen Valiquette’s helmet, you can see it adorned with the eyes and mask of the superhero Spider-man.
He said he first did it as a promotion for the Marvel Comics – Spider-man is from New York -but then as he visited some hockey camps, the children attending complimented him so much, Spidey just stuck.
Maybe the Rangers backup is being modest, though. He’s been a superhero in the crease recently, spinning a web in front of the net, almost every time he goes out to play.
“I was well rested,” Henrik Lundqvist’s backup said modestly. “Yesterday we had same high tempo practices, so I felt good going out there today.”
Valiquette stopped 33 of 35 shots in the Rangers 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, as Lundqvist took a back seat after playing in the second period of the All-Star game. But even with the Rangers’ top netminder in a baseball cap, there was no dropoff in goaltending prowess. Valiquette was on.
“I think we should be really happy with this,” he said. “Coming off a break, you just have to win. It doesn’t have to be a perfect hockey game. [Hopefully], this is something that can carry over to Pittsburgh tomorrow and give ourselves a chance to win again. We are happy with the result and that’s what matters most tonight.”
Yet, more importantly than the win is the faith Rangers coach Tom Renney has in his backup. Instead of riding Lundqvist down the stretch, like he did the last two seasons – and then seeing him wear down in the playoffs – the coach now can go to Valiquette in key spots during crunch time in February and March.
“We have to give Henrik the opportunity to regroup and rest,” Renney said. “Steve demonstrated for the second year in a row he can play the position pretty well. That’s good because we need Steve down the stretch.”
By no means is No. 40 replacing No. 30. Lundqvist will get the bulk of the time in the net, but won’t be in there day in and day out.
This is actually what the Rangers were looking for the last couple of seasons. They thought Kevin Weekes could be the answer, but he got injured in the 2006-07 season, so they turned to Valiquette, a career minor leaguer, with a few cups of coffee in the NHL.
But the 31 year-old responded to the teachings of goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, while biding his time on the bench. It was perfect for the Rangers, because Valiquette was happy to contribute – even on a limited basis – in the NHL and had no aspirations to compete with Lundqvist for the starting job.
Instead, he wanted to become the best backup in the league. So far he’s succeeding. Last season, he played 13 games – starting 10 – and was 5-3-3 with a 2.19 goals against average. This season he stepped it up going 5-3-1 with 2.17 goals against average and is 2-0-0 at Madison Square Garden.
In simpler terms, Valiquette has been amazing, just like the hero on his helmet.